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It’s Almost Impossible to Convince People They’re Wrong

The Havell's coffee maker add and mHealth successes are just two examples of how it's so much easier to introduce a new product, service or information if it ties in with the target audience's aspirations.


The human tendency towards willful ignorance is not a new discovery. This has often been observed (in more friendly terms) in public health practice – whereby people cling to incorrect information and unhelpful practices about vaccination, climate change or the economic benefit of large families. How do you work against this to deliver new information, new practices or new products that could save lives?

In a recent New Yorker article (worth reading the full-version here), Maria Konnikova has an interesting piece on the science of correcting people’s erroneous beliefs. A study from 2013 gave people incorrect information, and then provided correct information right away. It found the only people willing to change their beliefs were ideologically predisposed to do so. If people had a contrary belief, they distrusted the new source.

If information doesn't square with someone's prior beliefs, he discards the beliefs if they're weak and discards the information if the beliefs are strong.”

The research found that false beliefs are closely tied to people’s self-identity and aspirations: what kind of person I am and what kind of person do I want to be?

“It's only after ideology is put to the side that a message itself can change, so that it becomes decoupled from notions of self-perception.”

This doesn’t lead us to a dead-end. People are more open minded to changing their beliefs if it is preceded by “self-affirmation”. Somehow a general reflection on happy and positive memories makes people more open to accurate information.

Maria Konnikova points that these findings are hard to put into practice, it’s difficult to get people to reflect on happy moments in their lives and then provide information on vaccines (for example).

However, I don’t think it’s that hard – certainly the advertising industry are very good at it. For example, recent adds for kitchen appliances from Havell’s tie in very nicely to women’s aspirational self-perceptions (I don't understand Hindi well, but it's still great to watch!)


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